Closing Keynote Address to the Global Citizens WASH

The Honourable Kevin Rudd, AC.

President, Asia Society Policy Institute, New York

26th Prime Minister of Australia 

High Level Chair – Sanitation and Water for All

Breakfast discussion by RB,, and Global Citizen – Are We Washing our Hands of Girls’ Future? 

26 September 2019


Thank you, it’s a good thing you’re doing today. And when I think about SDG 6, it is the least glamorous and most important of all the Sustainable Development Goals.  If we don’t deliver on 6, frankly, we undermine the rest. And, if I’m being brutally honest about it, if I look at progress so far, we run the greatest risk of being the worst performers of the SDGs against the targets which have been set for 2030.

Though I appreciate all the encouragement from the panel which has just addressed us. Mr. Toilet, he’s not here. He’s in Singapore. Number two man. Now number three man, what you’re doing in Lagos is great. I saw your president yesterday and encouraged him in his path in my capacity as chair of the global partnership on Sanitation and Water for All.

So it’s good to see national leadership and state level leadership across the country, because if Nigeria delivers on SDG 6 the same way that we are seeing in India, we may just get this.  So I’m off to see Sheikh Hasina from Bangladesh later today on the same message, and I think that if we really gather momentum at all levels – national political leadership, sub-national leadership, and the private sector most critically, and I thank you for your remarks and your contribution Gary, and what all of you are doing in civil society – as a global team we can actually transform the show.

I have a four-year-old grandson who is visiting for my birthday. So when I was coming out this morning, he’s saying, “What are you going to do today?”

And I said, “I’m going to talk about toilets.”

Then he looks at me and says, “Why?”

“Because a lot of people don’t have them, and they need them.”

“Okay, why are you doing it?”

“Well, I’m just helping a lot of other people, a lot of people doing a lot of good things.”

He says, “So my grandad is the poo man.”

So we’re in competition. My oldest son call’s me the “Sultan of Sewerage”.

This morning I was chairing a session at the International Peace Institute with Michelle Bachelet and others on human rights and norms from across the international community and of the absolute necessity for frameworks and standards.  We often get derided in the UN system and across the multilateral community for talking about this “stuff”, SDGs 1 through 17, Agenda 2030, human rights law and the rest, but, you know something? In the absence of these normative standards values and goals, we just drift and drift in a very bad direction. And so we know that against these standards and these goals that we have set, there is pushback, but to quote one of the ministers this morning, in fact, the Norwegian foreign minister, she said “It’s time to push back against the push back.” Our job is to deliver momentum against those who seek to diminish global human rights standards, global development standards, and global development aspirations.

We should have courage in our convictions. However, that’s not going to deliver us the outcome for SDG 6. Four point two billion people with no access to safely managed sanitation. That’s a big task, what sub-national governments do, as has just been reflected from the government in Nigeria is of fundamental importance.

So I asked myself, what is the most useful value added that an organization like ours, which is Sanitation and Water For All, can add to what is already being done by, by national governments, by sub-national governments and others? And to those in the private sector, in the technology space who are coming up with new things all the time about how we can better do this?

So my response to that, a bit like Gary’s in different ways, the answer to the future lies in three words: finance, finance, finance. I wish I could be more romantic about it. It’s money, money, and money. Because other than that, we’ll have terrific normative standards, but frankly, they’ll wave in the breeze like a dead letter come 2030 if we don’t actually mobilize cash to get this stuff done. So go to the next level down, where do we get the cash?

Forget global ODA, as someone said, it’s just not going to work. Look at the funding deficit, as calculated for what we need to do with SDG 6 alone, an additional global allocation of $120 billion a year to be on target for SDG 6 by 2030. Total global ODA at present stands at about a $136 billion. Total global ODA. If I was to go to the subcomponent dedicated to WASH, let alone the sub-subcomponent dedicated to sanitation, we’re down to micro-numbers.

And I really commend our friends from the World Bank, because you’ve got the message, and what I see with the World Bank and having worked with you guys for the last several years is a huge re-mobilization of effort around WASH. So there is an important role for the Bank to play here in frankly becoming the global product champions for how this can be done in a financially sustainable fashion. If you go conceptually to the sources of what makes a difference it’s tax, in other words, there are certain systems where the governments need to layout, either nationally or sub-nationally when it comes to sanitation and water systems.

There are tariffs, globally controversial. It goes to the value of water. Then we’re into the great debate – is water a universal human right? That’s terrific. I’m all for universal human rights. I’ve been chairing a session on this this morning, but there’s not going to be any bloody water there unless someone pays to get it there.

And so tariffs are actually critical, and the politics lies in how we calibrate tariffs against different income levels and different geographies to make it work.  But at a conceptual and political class, it’s to cause tariffs to cease to be a dirty word. And you know something, we’re making progress on it.

It’s now a much bigger part of the discourse that we are having with our 55 sanitation water ministers, across our 55 member states of Sanitation and Water for All, and our finance ministers. And we’re now talking tariffs in a way which would have been seen as almost politically incorrect only three or four years ago. Then, of course, there are transfers, and we know how that can work and work effectively, and sometimes ineffectively, but then we move into the new domain which Gary’s spoken about so eloquently this morning. It’s the bankability of projects.

When we think about the bankability of projects in sanitation, we think of the equivalent of the Aswan Dam, something which is, minimum 50 billion bucks, probably 500 million bucks before anyone’s going to go near it. Well, you know, it’s not like that. Bankability projects can be the bankability of the small community project run effectively by a small community cooperative where there is a modest tariff in order to sustain the initial capital investment that’s necessary, plus the maintenance costs over time. And, even in the poorest communities such capital is available, if as Gary said before, it is properly and effectively tasked. Then, of course, you have cocktail arrangements, with PPPs that can work, and I noticed what the Bank had to say on that.

And of course, you then have this critical new area again, which Gary referred to, which is how do we deal with unleashing the financial capacity for people by preventing them getting exploited in their own financial transactions in a manner which puts their limited capital to the best use on these basic needs.

And my friends, the bottom line is our future with SDG 6 hangs on these five things that I’ve just referred to – taxes, encouraging governments to tax appropriately so they can provide this infrastructure across their nations; tariffs; transfers; bankability of projects for the private sector – local, municipal, statewide, nationwide; and then, when they are big, harnessing also the trillions of dollars of international capital which can be brought into this new and emerging industry sector in a more effective way than we’ve ever seen before.

And again, the magical phrase used before was to cease seeing water and sanitation particular as a poverty problem to be solved, as opposed to a new market opportunity to be unleashed. Because if you look at the market and the treatment capacity and the reusability of fecal sludge, for example, there is a whole gold mine of economic and financial opportunities for local communities on how this can be done.

At a practical level for Sanitation and Water for All, what I have done as its chairman is said “Okay, enough normative stuff. I think everyone’s got the message.” We’re all out there doing SDG 6. Everyone’s read it, most of us in this room can even memorize one and two and to tell us all what it actually says when it’s to be delivered by. Our value added is what we’re now working on for finance ministers and water and sanitation sector ministers, across our 55 member states, we have in Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America, and some of the island states, is a finance minister’s handbook on how to do this stuff. This deals with not just abstractions – it doesn’t deal with let’s call it grand theoretical constructs. It seeks to provide 10, 20, 30, 40 modules of how finance can and is being deployed across multiple financial models, drawing on those five sources of capital I referred to before.

Often when I sit down with presidents, as I did with the president of Nigeria yesterday – he’s terrific. He’s got his mission statement, he’s seen what Modi has done with Swachh Bharat in India. He’s going to do it in Nigeria. You’re going to have a target of ending open defecation by 2025, he told me. This is terrific. You’re going to have a big launch coming up soon. I hope it’s a secret, but I may have busted the secret. If it is, just rewind that part of the tape.

But you know something, that leadership is going to be fantastic not only in terms of behavioral change, but enhancing the finance, deploying the full menu of finance possibilities, many of which Gary referred to this morning in a practical and tangible way so that when the cabinet meetings happen and you’ve got the finance minister sitting there, he or she being “Doctor No” and the Water and Sanitation Minister sitting there being “Doctor Please”, and the President just sitting here saying I’m not sure which way to go. The challenge is to cause the finance minister to conclude that radically increasing investment by multiple sources in this sector actually turbocharges the economy long-term. And that’s what we seek to do with our modest contribution for a finance minister’s handbook.

Which once we completed by next year when we meet in the Spring Meetings of the World Bank with SWA member states, finance ministers, and public sector ministers together, we hope to release and launch.

To conclude, can I just say this to you all? If I have one small mission being with you here today, it’s to utter a small word of encouragement because all of you are workers in the field, and it’s hard stuff, this really is hard stuff and as we’ve already discussed it’s not entirely glamorous. It’s very difficult to get a decent front page which says “X country’s shit problem has been fixed tomorrow”. Even journalists run away from this sort of stuff.

So I just want to encourage each one of you. Those of you who have the creativity to set up something like which you did, those of us you who have become activists on this stuff at the sub-national government level, and those who have taken up the banner within the World Bank, and those of you who are working across multiple agencies, institutions and NGOs across the world, to deal with those 500,000 kids who die unnecessarily each year because we haven’t literally got our shit together.

So I conclude simply with a word of encouragement to you all. We can do this. India is showing us that you can bring about measurable change. Nigeria, I see the beginnings of real change. And I think if we take that message to our other partners in this great development and economic challenge for the future, we are going to transform the world.

Thank you.